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2013 September - October

After Shelby County v. Holder Voting Rights Are Again a Racial Justice Frontier

By Marcia Henry

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and caused great concern among racial justice advocates but less response, so far, from antipoverty advocates. Many legal services attorneys think that they are prohibited from working on voting-related advocacy when, in fact, Legal Services Corporation restrictions limit only a very specific set of activities. Legal services attorneys outraged by post-Shelby efforts to reinstate barriers to voting are not prohibited from fighting to expand the right to vote.

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Launching a Race Equity Project in the City of Angels

By Nicole M. Perez, Sotivear Sim, Angela Turner & Silvia Argueta

Inspired by Legal Services of Northern California’s Race Equity Project, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles recently started a Race Equity Initiative, which has thus far drafted an initial strategic plan, assessed staff and organizational race equity competencies, and trained staff about implicit biases. The foundation offers a description of these first steps as guidance for other organizations interested in developing a race-conscious practice in the fight for social justice.

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Practical Lessons from One Program’s Experience with Racial Justice Advocacy

By Aneel L. Chablani

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) describes lessons that the organization learned from recent race equity advocacy. In a Title VI complaint filed, on behalf of an active community organization, with the Office of Civil Rights of two federal agencies, ABLE alleged that a city council decision to deny Dayton Regional Transportation Authority’s bus stop application had a disparate impact on African Americans who disproportionately relied on public transportation to get to work and access services. In ongoing litigation against the discriminatory siting of public housing residents in low-income minority-concentrated areas, ABLE reframed why an earlier affirmative action plan had to focus on reconnecting families to opportunity. In partnership with a private law firm, ABLE challenged the U.S. Border Patrol and law enforcement agencies’ illegal profiling of Hispanic farmworkers.

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Unfinished Business

The Mission of the Mississippi Center for Justice

By Martha Bergmark

The Mississippi Center for Justice began in 2003 with a mission of carrying on work that had waned in the deep South since the height of the civil rights movement. In a state that ranks at or near the bottom on many indicators of racial equity and low-income residents’ well-being, the Center uses a range of legal tools to tackle what its founders concluded are the starkest examples of social injustice, including incarceration of juveniles, limited Medicaid benefits, and, more recently, predatory lending. Following Hurricane Katrina, the center opened a new office on the Gulf Coast and helped prevent diversion of federal funds intended for recovery in low-income communities.

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Advocacy for African American Men

Beginning a Conversation

By Margaret Stapleton

African American men tend to be underrepresented as clients of legal aid programs, and vigorous, creative advocacy is called for to meet many African American men’s complex legal needs. Advocates should educate themselves about the multiple factors that combine to marginalize African American men—violence and disproportionate entanglement in the criminal justice system prominent among these factors—and reorient their practice so that it no longer ignores this population.

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Racial Justice and LGBTQ Advocacy

Evolving Intersectionally

By Natalie Lorraine Ortega & Dominique Apollon

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people of color have been focusing much of their energy on the marriage equality battle. Yet LGBTQ people of color—particularly young people—face problems ranging from involvement in the juvenile justice system to employment discrimination. Their advocates need instead to take into account their intersectional situation.

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TANF and Racial Justice

By Henry A. Freedman & Mary R. Mannix

The effects of childhood poverty last well into adulthood. And yet a main safety net, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, is failing to help low-income families climb out of poverty—particularly if those families are black or Latino. Racialization infects TANF policies and administration at all levels. To help eradicate this racism and empower individual clients, advocates need to discern whether their local TANF programs are attributing racial stereotypes to recipients, and advocates must work in broad coalitions to make meaningful, lasting change.

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Laying Tracks to Environmental Justice

By Debbie M. Chizewer

Rail yard expansions increase diesel pollution and threaten community health—and they are often located in poor communities of color. Environmental justice advocates in the Englewood community of Chicago and in San Bernardino and Long Beach, California, are for minimizing the pollution and consequent health problems of rail yard expansions. The advocates have negotiated, litigated, and filed administrative complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

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Introducing HUD’s Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard

By Megan Haberle

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a regulation in February 2013 to implement the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects standard. The regulation formalized the clear burden-shifting standard used for decades by HUD and most federal courts. It established a uniform definition of “discriminatory effect” and clarified how defendants can show a “legally sufficient justification” for a challenged practice.

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Racial Justice and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

By Jason Langberg & Peggy Nicholson

Millions of students are trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline, which is a system of laws, policies, and practices pushing students out of school and toward the juvenile criminal system. To end this human and civil rights crisis, legal organizations should use the variety of tools available—including representation and community education—as part of an overall strategy to achieve racial justice and fight poverty.

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The Affordable Care Act’s Tools for Attacking Racial Health Disparities

By Andrea Kovach & John Bouman

America’s health care system is rife with racial disparities in health outcomes. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 supplies race-conscious tools to tackle those disparities and equalize health care. The Affordable Care Act expands health insurance coverage and should bring many more people of color into the ranks of the insured. The Act funds community-based health initiatives, requires monitoring of health disparities, and supports medical professionals who will work in underserved areas.

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Maximizing the Power of Geographic Information Systems in Racial Justice

By Allan M. Parnell & Ann Moss Joyner

Maps and graphs can help lawyers, judges, and juries understand data that would normally intimidate them. Geographic information systems (GIS) formats can be used to display empirical spatial information. Because discrimination cases often have a spatial element, GIS is on target for advocates working toward racial justice. An accompanying sidebar by Jason Reece describes "The Geography of Justice."

Editor's Note: As a benefit to our readers, below are full-color versions of the images presented in Ann Moss Joyner and Allan Parnell's Maximizing the Power of Geographic Information Systems in Racial Justice.

  1. The effect of annexation: Modesto city limits and Hispanic Residents, 1961.
  2. The effect of annexation: city limits and Hispanic Residents, 2004.
  3. Access to streetlights and municipal exclusion.
  4. Access to streetlights and municipal exclusion.
  5. Access to water and race.
  6. Coal Run and water: the importance of context.
  7. Zoning and race or ethnicity in Dallas, Texas.
  8. Location of landfill in relation to African American residents of Brunswick County, North Carolina.
  9. Concentration of population near proposed landfill by African American percentages.
  10. Concentration of population near proposed landfill by race.
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The Neuroscience of the Intent Doctrine

How the Doctrine Facilitates the Brain’s Bias

By Kimberly Papillon New developments in neuroscience are finding evidence of the power and impact of “implicit bias,” a form of discrimination that is unconscious but no less real. These results are at odds with the intent doctrine—the requirement established in Washington v. Davis that plaintiffs, to obtain relief, must prove that a discriminatory action was intentional and that showing that a policy has a disparate impact on people of color is not sufficient. Advocates are finding that neuroscience is offering new tools in challenging the intent doctrine. Download this article   |   Read more ➢

Closing the Gap in Understanding Immigrant Rights as Civil Rights

By Cecilia Chen & Robin Goldfaden

The racialized history of immigrants in America shows that, in fact, the immigrants’ rights movement is part of the civil rights movement. Over time, more and more advocates have recognized the relationship between immigrant rights and civil rights. Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area was primarily devoted to representing the African American community, but in 1981 the organization founded its Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. Examining the organization’s struggles to integrate immigrant rights work into its civil rights vision reveals a new dimension to our understanding of racial justice.

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Using a Racial Equity Impact Analysis in the Minneapolis Public Schools

By Jermaine Toney & Terry Keleher

The Minneapolis school district needed to save money by changing school boundaries and closing schools. The district came up with options to achieve savings and sought community input in decision making. Community leaders asked the district to do a racial impact analysis of the options so that they could evaluate how each option would affect community members. The analysis allowed the district to choose the option that best mitigated adverse effects on communities of color.

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Putting Race Back on the Table

Racial Impact Statements

By William Kennedy, Gillian Sonnad & Sharon Hing

Are we in a “postracial” society, where policymakers no longer need to take race into account? When confronted with racial disparities, officials often respond that they are “color-blind” and thus they cannot “intend” the disproportionate impact that their policies have on those of racial and ethnic communities. Combat that specious argument with the racial impact statement, which should be community-driven and document a policy’s impact on such communities. Officials must choose: ratify the statement’s outcomes as their own and face the consequences, or pursue policies that reduce adverse effects on those communities.

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Understanding Structural Racialization

By john a. powell

A structural racialization analysis goes beyond examining persistent racial disparities or marginalization along socioeconomic status, class or racial lines, and the structures that repeat them. It goes beyond finding intent—proof of racism—before challenging structures and systems with unjust results. To understand structural racialization, examine the relationship between where one lives and how that affects one’s education and job opportunities, as well as other quality-of-life factors. Move past linear and isolated ideas of cause and effect and understand that everything is a cause and an effect. Only then can we transform our society to a radically inclusive one.

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Advancing Racial Equity—a Legal Services Imperative

By Camille D. Holmes & Francisca D. Fajana

Not only does poverty persist, but also the uneven distribution of poverty among racial groups shows little sign of diminishing. To attack both these phenomena successfully, advocates must sharpen their understanding of the intersections of race, racism, and poverty. Yet, while responses to a recent survey of advocates show overwhelming agreement that they have a role to play in tackling systemic racial bias, agreement breaks down—and answers vary widely with race of respondents—on questions of whether fighting poverty is a proxy for fighting racism. Advocates are called upon to engage in ongoing dialogue and reflection on these questions.

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